No one needs an academic study to understand that child abuse and neglect has horrible effects on children and families. The toll on young people and their caregivers – emotionally, socially and developmentally – is tremendous. But the problem also takes a broader toll on our health care system and society as a whole.
A new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control quantifies the toll on society in financial terms. The study examined nearly 600,000 confirmed child maltreatment cases over the course of a year. Approximately 1,740 of the cases resulted in the death of a child. It found the financial costs associated with these cases to be $124 billion, which includes the costs of medical care, special education, the criminal justice system and lost productivity.
Researchers totaled the lifetime cost for each victim of child maltreatment who lived at $210,012 – a figure the matches the cost of other health conditions such as stroke, which has lifetime cost per person estimated at $159,846, or type 2 diabetes, which is estimated between $181,000 and $253,000.
Much of the data for the study came from a project at Cornell called the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN), housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR). The project makes high-quality datasets available to researchers, including data from individual studies and annual federal data collection efforts, such as state child abuse and neglect and foster care statistics.
“This study very likely underestimates the actual burden as we learn more about the impact of early childhood adversity on brain development and health and well-being across the life span,” said John Eckenrode, director of NDACAN, professor of human development and director of the BCTR.
“Fortunately, there are now evidence-based programs that may prevent child maltreatment and the associated costs to society,” he said. Among them is the Nurse Family Partnership, a program founded at the College of Human Ecology that aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged mothers and their children.
The take home message: Child abuse and neglect is a big problem. The better we can understand its intricacies and impacts, the better we’ll be able to prevent it in the future.